Every year, the World Junior Championship brings us hockey that's as entertaining as it gets. These youngsters, aged 17 to 19, are not only playing for the glory of a country, but they also know damn well the eyes of the hockey world are on them. Future employers are taking notes on their every move and decision. There will be no missed checks, no coasting and no nights off.
But most important of all is this is our chance, as fantasy owners, to watch some potential fantasy assets play against the right competition. Back in their regular leagues, be it the Canadian Hockey League, the NCAA in the United States, the Kontinental League or the Swedish Elite League in Europe, these players are either dancing around their opponents as if they were pylons, or they're buried on the bench with teams that play against grown men. That makes it tough to get a feel for their offensive upside or chances of making the NHL and that’s why the WJC is so valuable: it gives us a chance to evaluate these prospects on an even playing field. This tournament puts these players on a lot of draft lists and watch lists in fantasy hockey. Here are some key names to keep an eye on.
*Note: to keep the list manageable, I'm only discussing prospects already drafted by an NHL team.
Artturi Lehkonen, LW - The 55th overall pick (Montreal) in 2013 has upside, but hasn’t taken that step forward we'd like to see. Perhaps that will come at the WJC.
Esa Lindell, D - Dallas prospect has a long way to go in terms of development, but his upside is fairly high.
Ville Pokka, D - Like Lindell, this Islanders prospect is still a few years away.
Rasmus Ristolainen, D - Ristolainen may not have high offensive upside, but he's a lock for the NHL and he's ready to play, if not now, then in the very near future as he's already been in the Sabres lineup.
Teuvo Teravainen, C - Chicago's first round pick in 2012 (18th overall) has quickly become one of the top prospects to own in fantasy hockey. All he lacks is significant bulk, but the tools are there for him to become an elite player.
Pavel Buchnevich, LW - The Rangers prospect has top six potential, but will he cross the pond to play in North America?
Mikhail Grigorenko, C - Fantasy owners are praying the Sabres haven't already ruined him by keeping him in the NHL, limiting his minutes and sticking pluggers on his wings.
Andrei Vasilevskiy, G - Already a star in the KHL, the Tampa Bay prospect is quickly becoming one of the most hyped goaltending prospects on the planet. It may be wise to acquire him prior to his starring in this tournament, if he still isn’t owned.
Bogdan Yakimov, C - Teenagers with hockey sense and great hands at 6-foot-5, 202 pounds are rare, so, with a strong tournament, this Oilers prospect could be on the radar of everyone in your league soon.
Nikita Zadorov, D - Surprisingly made the Sabres to start the season and since has gone back to the Ontario League where he has made an impact offensively.
Valentin Zykov, LW - Los Angeles prospect has upside and a projectable frame, but is several years away. Then again, he's in the right organization for that, as the Kings aren't known for rushing prospects.
Marko Dano, C - Probably not first-line upside, but let's reserve judgment on this Columbus first-rounder (27th overall in 2013) until after the WJC.
Martin Reway, LW - Montreal draft pick (116th overall, 2013) lines up with Calgary stud Emile Poirier for Gatineau (Quebec League).
Jon Gillies and Anthony Stolarz, G – No matter who starts the final game, I'm sure we'll see both during the tournament. The Flyers (Stolarz) and Flames (Gillies) are not exactly teams with proven, long-term solutions in net, so these two have a chance of getting to The Show sooner than most goaltenders.
Will Butcher, D - Offensive rearguard hasn't adapted his freewheeling game to NCAA Div. I competition yet, but perhaps he’ll be let loose at the WJC. Colorado hopes so.
Connor Carrick, D - Carrick made the Capitals out of training camp this year, but was sent to the American League for more ice time. He'll get all the ice time he wants at this tourney.
Ian McCoshen, D - Drafted 31st overall in 2013 by the Panthers, we'll see McCoshen sooner rather than later, although he'll likely remain at Boston College for another couple years. The WJC will give us a nice preview of this fine puck-moving defenseman.
Riley Barber, RW - A sixth round pick by the Caps in 2012, Barber is dominating the college circuit this year and sits in the top five in NCAA Div. I scoring. Is it the college competition? If he matches his dominance at the WJC, we'll know for sure.
Adam Erne, LW - After impressing in Tampa Bay's training camp, Erne has been a top scorer for the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL.
Nic Kerdiles, LW - Anaheim's second round pick in 2012 (36th overall), Kerdiles proved he’s a clutch player by earning tournament MVP honors at the Western Collegiate Association Final Five Championship.
Henrik Samuelsson, C - The Coyotes are desperate for a big, strong No. 1 center and Samuelsson has the tools. A top 25 scorer in the Western League for the second year in a row, the 6-foot-3, 216-pound Samuelsson already has the hands and the hockey sense. I'm very eager to see how he performs in his first WJC.
Thursday we'll take a look at the fantasy hockey prospects to watch for Team Canada, Team Germany, Team Czech Republic and Team Switzerland. To get more information on these prospects, but from a fantasy hockey standpoint, visit DobberProspects.com